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How to Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed

How to Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed

From phony payment confirmations to password phishing, internet scammers will do anything they can to steal personal information. The good news is, you can avoid most online scams with a few steps and a little vigilance.

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How Many People Sell Cars on Craigslist?

The short answer is A LOT. Since Craigslist is a peer-to-peer site and doesn't have an internal payment option, it's difficult to say precisely how many people have successfully sold cars through the platform. This site is a favorite for advertising both private and commercial dealers, since it’s user-friendly, inexpensive to use, and has an enormous amount of internet traffic.

How Most People Get Scammed on Craigslist Car Deals

There are thousands of known internet scams, and con artists are constantly developing and sharing new techniques. Here are some of the most common:

Fraudulent checks and money orders

The most common way craigslist sellers are defrauded is by accepting an illegitimate payment method. Scammers posing as buyers will often ask to make payment by money order, cashier check, or wiring service. From there, a scammer may send a fake confirmation email, stop payment on the check, or ask the seller to send a portion of the amount back before the fraudulent transaction is detected.

There are many ways these scams can work, so it’s best to avoid these payment methods altogether. We’ll delve deeper into this topic and how to make sure a money order is legit, a little later.

Phony PayPal payments

PayPal is a favorite transfer method among sellers and shoppers, and while it's typically one of the safest methods, there are ways scammers can fake a PayPal payment confirmation.

Scammers often create phony accounts with legit-looking email addresses and formatting to make the email look nearly-identical to those from Paypal. These emails can be quite convincing, which is why they deceive so many people.

Paypal states, "A sender like "PayPal Service (" is not a message from PayPal. But sophisticated scammers can sometimes fake the full name, so look for other clues." Authentic Paypal emails will never ask you for personal information, passwords, or prompt you to download a file. Paypal will always address your full name or the name of your business, never as "Paypal user" or the like.

Overpayment schemes

Overpayment schemes are a common occurance on peer-to-peer sales platforms.The scammer will send a money order for way more than  the seller's asking price and requests that the seller wire the "change" back to them. Once you've transferred the money, they'll then stop payment on the initial transfer and leave you in a pile of debt.

Sometimes scammers will get creative and make up a story that they need the car delivered and are sending you extra to help with those expenses. When the seller receives the counterfeit payment, the con will make up an excuse as to why they need the overpayment back, ask the seller to transfer that back to them. By the time the seller realizes the payment was phony, they're already out several hundred dollars.

Phishing Scams

Phishing is a prevalent strategy for online scammers since it has so many different applications. What’s unique about phishing is all internet users can fall victim to this, unlike payment scams which only affect buyers and sellers.

The scammer creates imitation websites with login forms to trick the user into giving them their login information. This same strategy can also be used to steal bank account information by prompting the user to enter their card number for fraudulent "services." Scammers typically use emails or text messages with fraudulent links to draw in unwitting victims.

Fake Escrow Services

Both private buyers and sellers are at risk of being the target for a fake escrow service scam. Escrow services may sound like an attractive option, but these are easy to fake and can compromise your personal data.

A legit escrow fund holds a payment for a period of time, ensuring the consumer is satisfied with the purchase/service before making the funds available to the recipient. Counterfeit escrow sites look real but perform as a phishing site—operating only to steal users' banking information and possibly even their identity.


10 Tips to Sell a Car on Craigslist Without Getting Scammed:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be prepared for any scam that comes your way with these helpful pointers.

Be wary of unusual payment methods, escrows, or financing requests.

Do not accept money orders, cashier's checks, certified checks, wired money, or payment via PayPal. While some requests may be legitimate, these methods are far too risky, especially when dealing with large sums of money.

If you must accept a money order, we suggest that you verify it's legitimacy through the issuing service before delivering the goods. Never take a money order through an unfamiliar source. Moneygram, Western Union, and USPS customer service all have ways to make sure the money order is legit.

Know what Craigslist offers and what it doesn't.

Emails or text messages alerting you of a new is a dead giveaway of a phishing scheme. The link within the message will prompt you to download a phony app that appears legit but isn't. “Logging in” to these fake apps gives the scammer access to your username and password and allows them to take over your account.

According to the Craigslist resource page, their site has never offered voicemail services and doesn't intend to in the foreseeable future. If you've mistakenly downloaded a phony craigslist voicemail app, change your craigslist password immediately.

Keep it local.

Craigslist's scam-prevention resource page states the most important rule for avoiding scams is to deal only with locals who are willing to meet in-person.

Meet up in a neutral public location.

Ask the buyer to meet you in a public location like a supermarket or other high-traffic area during business hours. It’s a good idea to bring a friend with you when meeting up with anyone you’ve never met. If that’s not an option, enable location-sharing on your phone and have someone you trust to monitor your whereabouts during the meetup. Facebook messenger and Google Maps both have location-sharing options, but there are many other apps devoted entirely to this technology.

Use caution if someone has too many inconvenient or unique circumstances.

Often scammers masquerading as buyers will create elaborate stories to explain their special requirements. They’ll feed you excuse after excuse as to why specific payment methods won't work and why they can't meet or discuss the transaction over the phone. The scammer may claim to be on a business trip, in the hospital, or have hearing difficulties.

Another common story is that they're elderly and don't know how to use certain services or are having trouble with their bank. Cons commonly use emotional tactics like claiming to have a severe illness to gain the seller's sympathy and trust.

Research your prospective buyers

vetting prospective buyers before meeting up or accepting payment is crucial since this can protect you both personally and financially. You don’t have to go full-background check mode, but do ask the buyer to call rather than text.

Conversing over the phone can help you get a better feel for the person since many scammers operate using scripts. Googling their name may also give you an idea if the person is a known scammer, though this isn’t always reliable since scammers may go by multiple aliases.

Only accept cash if at all possible

Most fraudulent financial activity occurs with digital transfers. Making it clear from the beginning that you only take cash can eliminate the potential for most scams. State “cash only, no exceptions” in your ad to make browsers aware of your policy.

Know how to spot a counterfeit bill.

Though cash tends to be safer, it isn’t perfect either. Do some research on counterfeit money detection. Most fake bills have a strange texture or coloring that isn’t quite right. If you can, invest in a counterfeit detector pen to make sure you don’t get tricked by a more convincing bill. These pens are about $5 each and can save you a fortune in the long run.

A common ploy involves scammers asking the seller for a vehicle history report through a fraudulent website. The con will send you a suspicious link, which will prompt you to enter the VIN and your banking information to receive the report. This information gives them everything they need to drain your account and steal your identity. If someone requests a history report, stick with the usual sites like CarFax or Autocheck, or give them the VIN and have them order it themselves.

Don't fall for an over-payment scheme.

Beware of buyers who ask to send you way more money than your asking price—this is almost always indicative of a scam.

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